Common Alcohol Dependence Questions Answered

 Common Alcohol Dependence Questions Answered

Here are some answers to common alcohol dependence questions.  It is important to understand that these answers are not meant to provide specific medical advice, but to provide information to better understand the health consequences of alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence.  Please consult your physician or other health care provider if you or a loved one has an alcohol problem.

What Is Alcoholism?  Alcoholism, also know as alcohol dependence, is a disease that includes the following four symptoms.

  1.  Craving – A strong need, or urge, to drink.
  2.  Loss of Control – Not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun.
  3.  Physical Dependence – Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after stopping drinking.
  4.  Tolerance – The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get “high.”

Is Alcoholism A Disease?

Yes, alcoholism is a disease.  The craving an alcoholic feels for alcohol can be as strong as the need for food or water.  An alcoholic will continue to drink despite serious family, health or legal problems.

Like many other diseases, alcoholism is chronic, meaning that it lasts a person’s lifetime.  It usually follows a predictable course, and it has symptoms.  The risk for developing alcoholism is influenced both by a person’s genes and by his or her lifestyle.

Is Alcoholism Inherited?

Research shows that the risk for developing alcoholism does indeed run in families.  The genes a person inherits partially explain this pattern, but lifestyle is also a factor.  But remember; risk is not destiny.  Just because alcoholism tends to run in families doesn’t mean that a child of an alcoholic parent will automatically become an alcoholic too.  Some people develop alcoholism even though no one in their family has a drinking problem.

Can Alcoholism Be Cured?

No, alcoholism cannot be cured at this time.  Even if an alcoholic hasn’t been drinking for a long time, he or she can still suffer a relapse.  Not drinking is the safest course for most people with alcoholism.

Can Alcoholism Be Treated?

Yes, alcoholism can be treated.  Alcoholism treatment programs use both counseling and medications to help a person stop drinking.

Treatment has helped many people stop drinking and rebuild their lives.

Which Medications Treat Alcoholism?

Three oral medications – Antabuse, Depade and Campral – are currently approved to treat alcohol dependence.  In addiction, there is a long acting injectable medication called Vivitrol.  Although medications are available to help treat alcoholism, there is no “magic bullet.”  In other words, no single medication is available that works in every case or with every person.

Does Alcohol Treatment Work?

Alcoholism treatment works for many people.  But like other chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and asthma, there are varying levels of success when it comes to treatment.  Some people stop drinking and remain sober.  Others have long periods of sobriety with bouts of relapse.  An still others cannot stop drinking for any length of time.  With treatment, one thing is clear however, the longer a person abstains from alcohol, the more likely he or she will be able to stay sober.

Do You Have To Be An Alcoholic To Experience Problems?

No.  Alcoholism is only one type of an alcohol problem.  Alcohol abuse can be just as harmful.  A person can abuse alcohol without actually being an alcoholic – this is, he or she may drink too much and too often but still not be dependent on alcohol.  Some of the problems linked to alcohol abuse include not being able to meet work, school, or family responsibilities; drunk – driving arrests and car crashes; and drinking-related medical conditions.  Under some circumstances, even social or moderate drinking is dangerous – for example, when driving, during pregnancy, or when taking certain medications.

Are Specific Groups Of People More Likely To Have Problems?

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism cut across gender, race, and nationality.  In the United States, 17.6 million people – about 1 in every 12 adults – abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent.  In general, more men than women are alcohol dependent or have alcohol problems.  And alcohol problems are highest among young adults ages 18-29.  We also know that people who start drinking at an early age – for example 14 or younger – are at much higher risk of developing alcohol problems at some point in their lives compared to someone who starts drinking at age 21 or after.

How Can You Tell If Someone Has A Problem?

Answering the following questions can help you find out if you or a loved one has a drinking problem:  Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?  Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?  Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?  Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?  One “yes” answer suggests a possible alcohol problem.  More than one “yes” answer means it is highly likely that a problem exists.  If you think that you or someone you know might have an alcohol problem, it is important to see a health care provider right away.  They can help you determine if a drinking problem exists and plan the best course of action.

Can A Problem Drinker Simply Cut Down?

It depends.  If that person has been diagnosed as an alcoholic the answer is “no.”  Alcoholics who try to cut down on drinking rarely succeed.  Cutting out alcohol – that is, abstaining – is usually the best course of recovery.  People who are not alcohol dependent but who have experienced alcohol-related problems may be able to limit the amount they drink.  If they can’t stay within those limits, they need to stop drinking altogether.

If An Alcoholic Is Unwilling to Get Help, What Can You Do About It?

This can be a challenge.  An alcoholic can’t be forced to get help except under certain circumstances, such as traffic violation or arrest that results in court-ordered treatment.  But you don’t have to wait for someone to “hit rock bottom” to act.  Many alcoholism treatment specialists suggest the following steps to help an alcoholic get treatment.  Stop all “cover ups.”  It is important to stop covering for the alcoholic so that he or she experiences the full consequences of drinking.  Time your intervention.  The best time to talk to a drinker is shortly after an alcohol-related problem – like a serious family argument or an accident.  Be specific.  Tell the family member that you are worried about his or her drinking.  Use examples of how drinking has caused problems.  State the results.  Explain what you will do if he or she doesn’t go for help – not to punish the drinker, but to protect yourself from his or her problems.  Get help.  Gather information in advance about treatment options in your community.  If the person is willing to get help, call immediately for an appointment with a treatment counselor.  Get support.  Remember you are not alone.  Support groups include Al-Anon, which holds regular meetings for spouses and other significant adults, and Alateen, which is geared to children of alcoholics.

You can call the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service (Center for Substance Abuse Treatment) at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for information about treatment programs in your local community and to speak to someone about an alcohol problem.  Many people find support groups a helpful aid to recovery.  Search these topics:


Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA)

National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI)

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)


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